Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Mollie Nakasaki Interview
Narrator: Mollie Nakasaki
Interviewer: Jiro Saito
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 1, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-nmollie-01

<Begin Segment 1>

JS: This is an interview with Mollie Nakasaki, whose family owned the Mandarin Restaurant in San Jose's Japantown. The interview, conducted by Jiro Saito, is taking place on November 1, 2004, at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, 535 North Fifth Street, San Jose, California. The interview is part of a visual history project called "Lasting Stories: The Resettlement of San Jose's Japantown." The project is a collaborative between the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and the Densho Project of Seattle, Washington.


JS: Thank you, Mollie, for taking the time to participate in this interview today. I'd like to first start out by asking you some questions about your parents and where they were from. This is before the war, we'll cover that period first, okay?

MN: All right.

JS: Now, were your parents born in Japan?

MN: Yes.

JS: So that you're a Nisei, or second-generation in the United States.

MN: Yes.

JS: Now please tell me where in Japan your parents came from and why they left, beginning with your father.

MN: My father is Kumamoto, and I've, I've just recently found out that -- well, not recently -- I found out that my father was a second son, and so he would be left out of his inheritance. So he decided to come to, to the United States. He and two other friends, I think a Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Tanaka, I think, they both, all three of them came together. He must have been about sixteen years old, and then they came to, to San Francisco. And through San Francisco, that's all I remember of my father.

JS: So your father's family owned a farm, or did they have a business, or what was that?

MN: I don't know.

JS: You don't remember that?

MN: No, I don't know nothing --

JS: What was your father's name?

MN: Mikaku.

JS: Mikaku?

MN: Fujino.

JS: Fujino, okay. Mikaku Fujino.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: And how about your mother?

MN: My mother's, my mother is a Fukuoka, and my grandmother was already living in San Jose, and so she, she asked, she told my uncle K and my mother to, to come down to this, to California, and so they both came. And I don't, I don't know what month, what year it was, but -- oh, I couldn't, I could be, I might, if I... because she was twelve years old when she came to this country, and so it could have been 1906, or... 1906.

JS: So did she come by herself from Japan to the United States? Or how did she come?

MN: I don't know.

JS: You don't know if she was accompanied by somebody?

MN: No, I don't know.

JS: But she came here to the United States and she, where did she land? In San Francisco?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Landed in San Francisco, uh-huh. And then, then they, she, they came to San Jose, 'cause my grandmother was already living in San Jose.

JS: And what was your mother's name?

MN: Uchiyama. Umeno Uchiyama.

JS: Umeno Uchiyama.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Now, when your father came to the United States, he landed in San Francisco.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Where did he go from San Francisco?

MN: I don't know.

JS: But he, do you know where he ended up?

MN: Yes, Salinas.

JS: Salinas?

MN: Yes.

JS: Okay. And when he was in Salinas, before he, before he met your mother, what was he doing there?

MN: He was farming. He was farming.

JS: Okay. And did he do something else after that?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. My mother is very business-minded, so she, she bought a rooming house, a boarding house, and from what I heard, they were, they had this boarding house for quite a while.

JS: Now, this is after they got married then.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: We're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here.

MN: Oh, I'm sorry.

JS: [Laughs] No, no, that's okay. It's okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JS: So now, your mother came to --

MN: San Jose.

JS: -- San Jose, and where did they, where did she live in San Jose?

MN: She, she lived... well, I think she lived in Alviso --

JS: Okay.

MN: -- with the family, because my uncles, my two uncles, Shigeru and Isami, Isami, was born in Alviso, and so that's where, that's where they stayed, for I don't know how long.

JS: Did they eventually move to San Jose?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, eventually.

JS: To San Jose city? And was that --

MN: No, they moved to the farm, country. Foxworthy.

JS: Okay, okay. Now, when did your mother and father meet?

MN: They must have met around 1909, I believe, because they were married in 1910.

JS: Okay, and how did they meet? Do you...

MN: No, I don't know.

JS: Were they introduced, or were, they just saw each other someplace? [Laughs]

MN: I never found out.

JS: They didn't have a go-between or anything like that?

MN: No, no. It was a love match, love marriage.

JS: Oh, that's, was good. And how old, how old was your mom when she got married?

MN: Well, I think she was fifteen.

JS: Okay.

MN: And my father was about thirty, and so my grandmother was very dead set against it, so they eloped.

JS: Where did they elope to?

MN: To, to Salinas.

JS: To Salinas?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: Oh, okay, so they, did they get married in Salinas, then?

MN: No, they got married in San Jose. Their marriage license is in the courthouse, I saw that.

JS: Oh, okay. Okay, and was your grandmother upset by, by this?

MN: Oh, yes, very upset, because she, 'cause my father was a, was a dorakubo.

JS: Now, what does that mean?

MN: He loves, he loves that wine, women, and song. [Laughs]

JS: And that was, is that what that word means?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, yes.

JS: Now, after they got married, they moved to...

MN: To Salinas.

JS: And is that where the boarding house came up?

MN: Yes, that's where the boarding house came. And then, then I think they had a, they got a, someone had, had this grocery store was for sale, so they, they bought the grocery store. And then when I was born, the grocery store was already in existence. It was, so it must have been about 1929, maybe longer than that, when, when they had the grocery store.

JS: So before the grocery store, they ran a boarding house, then?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: And that was their form of income up until the grocery store.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JS: Then your father purchased a grocery store. Was there a reason why he purchased a grocery store?

MN: No, no, I don't know. Like I said, Mother was very business-minded, and she loved --

JS: Your mother?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: And then where was this grocery store located in Salinas?

MN: Right on Lake Street.

JS: I'm sorry, what?

MN: Lake Street.

JS: Lake?

MN: Yeah, Lake Street. 109 Lake Street.

JS: And what type of neighborhood was it located in?

MN: I think it was Little Japantown.

JS: Oh, really?

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: So you had quite a few Japanese customers there?

MN: Yeah, a lot of, quite a few -- and then there were some Chinese restaurants there, next, next-door to our grocery store, there was a Chinese restaurant.

JS: And then the things that you sold at that grocery store, were they...

MN: Produce, meat.

JS: Okay. And then who worked at the grocery store? Your mother and father?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. We all did.

JS: So you worked there, too.

MN: No, I didn't have to work.

JS: Why was that?

MN: I was, I was a little... I was a little princess. [Laughs] Ojosan.

JS: Okay, okay. [Laughs]

MN: So I didn't, they didn't, they didn't, they didn't make us work there. But I had eight older brothers and sisters, so they all had to work there.

JS: Ah, except you.

MN: Except me and my younger sister.

JS: Oh, you have a younger sister?

MN: Yes, I have a younger sister, uh-huh.

JS: Okay, okay. Now, how large a business was this?

MN: Well, I thought it was huge, but I don't think so. I don't know, it's not... well, it had a produce section and it had a meat, meat market, and the meat market had that, had that walk-in refrigerator, so it must have been pretty big.

JS: And was it successful, do you think?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, it was. Uh-huh, yes.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JS: Now, living in Salinas -- this is all before the war --

MN: Yes.

JS: Did you, were your parents in any way active in the Japanese community there?

MN: Yes, very much so.

JS: And what did they do?

MN: They were involved with the Buddhist Church there, uh-huh.

JS: In what capacity?

MN: Oh, probably monetarily.

JS: Okay, were they in organizations there?

MN: I, I believe my mother could have been in the Buddhist women's league, it's called Fujinkai.

JS: Okay, and were they in any way, in any sort of leadership positions within these organizations?

MN: No, I don't think so, because they were so busy with the grocery store that Mother just couldn't get too involved with it. But I remember going to church every Sunday, all ten of us -- or nine of us -- 'cause my, my brother, the eldest brother died in 1929, the year before I was born, so I don't remember my brother at all. But we all, we all had to go to church. I must have been about two years old when I was going to church.

JS: How did you feel about that?

MN: Oh, I loved it.

JS: And why?

MN: Because, to see all my friends, and to get... to see my friends.

JS: Now, did you, your fam-, -- excuse me -- your business was located in kind of like a little Japantown there in Salinas.

MN: Yes, uh-huh. I think it was one block long.

JS: One block long?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: Do you have any recollections of what it looked like in terms of your grocery store, and what other types of businesses were there?

MN: Well, right on the corner of the grocery store, there was a, a clothing store. Tazumi's had a clothing store, and then next to that was the pharmacy and a pool hall. And then there was a, then our grocery store, and then there was another grocery store right next door to our, the Onitsukas. Onitsukas owned that grocery store.

JS: How did that work out in terms of competition?

MN: Yeah, it was, uh-huh, because the Onitsukas had their own friends, and then we had our own friends, uh-huh.

JS: Oh, I see.

MN: Although Betsy and I were best friends. Betsy Onitsuka and I were very close, all during our school years.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JS: Now, did your family, in this prewar period of time in Salinas, did they experience any sort of prejudice or discrimination at that time?

MN: Oh, no, not at all.

JS: No, huh?

MN: I don't think so, although, although, although Salinas is a, is a... I don't know what you call it. "Bigot town"? [Laughs]

JS: None of that spilled over to your family, though?

MN: No, uh-uh, no.

JS: Okay. Do you have any reason why none, none of that happened?

MN: Well, one year we all went to the, the so-called other side of the railroad tracks, and we went to the swimming pool where the elite, where the kanemochis -- is that how you say it? When they...

JS: The rich, you mean?

MN: Yeah, uh-huh, where all the little children go to, that swimming pool. And there was about seven of us, and these ladies, they wouldn't let us in. They wouldn't let us in.

JS: Because you were...

MN: Japanese.

JS: Japanese?

MN: Uh-huh. And I was seven years old then.

JS: How did that make you feel?

MN: I didn't know, I didn't think anything of it. I just thought that we looked grungy and dirty, so that's why they didn't want us to go in.

JS: When did you find out it was because you were Japanese?

MN: After we went home, and then the kids, all the other kids were saying that, "Oh, they're not letting us in because we're Japanese."

JS: Okay, so that was probably the...

MN: That was one of my first encounter with discrimination.

JS: Encounters with that. How did that make you feel?

MN: It wasn't nothing. I mean, like I say, it wasn't, I didn't think anything of it, except the older kids that I was with, they didn't like it at all. They were very put out, and they went to their mother and father and they told 'em, but what can they do?

JS: So did you, I guess you must have stopped going there if they wouldn't let you in. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, we never went there. No, we never went there after that.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JS: Okay, now turning to you, when and where were you born?

MN: I was born in Salinas, California, on November 17, 1930.

JS: Okay, and you, you, earlier you said you had eight brothers and sisters, is that right?

MN: Well, there were ten altogether.

JS: Ten altogether?

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: Okay, and how many sisters and how many brothers?

MN: Five and five.

JS: Five and five? And you were the...

MN: Second from the, the, second from the bottom.

JS: And your oldest brother, you said, passed away before you were born.

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: And what was the cause of him passing away?

MN: Well, he, he was a butcher, and he cut his fingers, cut his hand, so they took him to the hospital, and they, they put some medicine in there, and the medicine was the wrong, so it turned into, his hand turned into gangrene, and I think in those days, they didn't know what to do with gangrene, so he died by, by blood poisoning.

JS: Was he working at the, was that, he was working at the store?

MN: Yeah, he was, uh-huh, he was a butcher at our store.

JS: Okay. And what childhood memories do you have of growing up in Salinas before the war? I mean, you said something about not being able to go to the swimming pool, but other, but besides that, what other things do you remember?

MN: Oh, we did, we had all, we had fun all the time. I played with all my girlfriends, but then I... they, they, all my friends called me the town bully.

JS: Why was that?

MN: I don't know why, I don't know why. I think I used to beat them up. [Laughs]

JS: [Laughs] So you had this reputation then, huh?

MN: Uh-huh, of beating up all the girls. But I had a lot of fun.

JS: Who were your friends? Were they Japanese?

MN: Yeah, they're all Japanese, uh-huh. Betsy next door, Fusaye, and Kaye Masatani. She still, she lives in Santa Anita right now. She's a really dear friend. She's the one that always says I was a bully, and she's about five-inch taller than me. [Laughs] And I used to, and she says I used to beat her up. I don't remember. [Laughs]

JS: But she keeps reminding you of this. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, exactly.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JS: Now, you mentioned something about having to go to church all the time. Tell me something about that, what was that like?

MN: Oh yes, uh-huh. I remember Reverend Fujimura, he was so nice, Reverend Fujimura, and there was another minister, Reverend Fujikado. I remember those two ministers. Reverend Fujimura had these long, long fingernails, long, about two-inches long fingernail. I remember that so distinctly. [Laughs] I don't know what he used, why he had this long pinky fingernail. [Laughs]

JS: Where was the church located in Salinas?

MN: It's right on California Street, right around the corner from Lake Street.

JS: Okay.

MN: It's only about a block away.

JS: Is it still in the same location?

MN: Yes, it's still same location. They have a great big huge temple bell there, I don't know if they ring it, they used to ring it every night at six o'clock, I remember.

JS: Now you, you went to school there in Salinas.

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: Now, did you have any idea or plans of what you might want to do when you finish school there?

MN: No. No, I had no idea of what I was planning, what I would do.

JS: Did you have any, did you have any sort of secret wishes that you would like to do something or something like that?

MN: No.

JS: Nothing like that, huh?

MN: No. Not at that time.

JS: Didn't want to be a movie star or anything --

MN: Yes, I, well, after, yeah, when I got to be about twenty years old, I wanted to be on Broadway. That was my...

JS: [Laughs] This is when, now?

MN: When I was twenty years old.

JS: Twenty years old?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: Okay, this is long after the war was over.

MN: I, see, I did, when I was twenty years old, I had a beautiful voice. [Laughs]

JS: Oh, okay, but you weren't --

MN: But I lost it, I lost my --

JS: Were you singing at that time when you were, before the war in Salinas?

MN: No, no, I wasn't. But then I must have been, because, because during the war, twenty-years old... when did the war start?

JS: '41.

MN: '41?

JS: 1941.

MN: Yeah, no, I was... no, no. See, I was, yeah, twenty years old, yeah, I was already. I was...

JS: Okay, we'll, we'll get into that a little bit --

MN: Okay, all right, okay.

JS: -- because we're still kind of still here in the prewar period of time here.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JS: How was your relationship with your parents?

MN: Well, I couldn't, I couldn't understand Japanese, and they couldn't understand, they couldn't... although my mother was pretty good in English, though. She was, she took care of the buying and produce and things like that, but, but no, I had a nice relationship with my father and mother. I did, uh-huh.

JS: So your father spoke only Japanese, then, huh?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: You spoke some Japanese, though, didn't you?

MN: Yeah, some Japanese, uh-huh. We had to go Japanese school. All of us had to go to Japanese school.

JS: Oh, that was part of your growing up period. Where did you attend Japanese school?

MN: At the Buddhist Church, the local Buddhist Church.

JS: How did you like that?

MN: Mmm... I wasn't very smart. I wasn't very good at it. [Laughs]

JS: Okay, so you, when you spoke to your parents, and you spoke in Japanese, or whatever you could manage.

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Whatever I could manage, uh-huh.

JS: When you did that, was there things that you could not talk about because of that?

MN: Of course, of course.

JS: Okay, like certain thoughts or things like that.

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Puberty. [Laughs]

JS: Okay, so who did you, who did you...

MN: My sisters.

JS: You discussed that with your sisters, then, huh?

MN: Yeah, uh-huh. Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Okay, they were the ones that straightened you out, or informed you about certain things.

MN: They were just like... uh-huh.

JS: Okay. So did being Japanese have any meaning for you at all at that time?

MN: Oh, I, I think I was proud of being a Japanese. I think I've always been proud of being a Japanese.

JS: And how did you express that pride, if you did express it?

MN: Well, I didn't express it. I mean, I just told my friends, but then all of my friends were so clean and neat, and they're all so intelligent, and I just envied all of my Japanese friends.

JS: Why did you envy them?

MN: Because they were all so pretty and smart.

JS: You didn't think you were?

MN: No, uh-uh. I didn't think I was.

JS: But you were the bully, too. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, uh-huh.

JS: So you couldn't convince them?

MN: No. [Laughs]

JS: Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JS: Now... okay, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of 1941, where were you when you heard about that?

MN: Oh, we were in San Jose.

JS: Okay, and exactly where in San Jose were you?

MN: Well, I was, I was staying with my cousins, because my sister had to play basketball. They were in a tournament in San Jose, and so they went to play, and I, we didn't... I don't think I went to it, 'cause I remember playing with all my, I had a lot of cousins.

JS: Okay, and how did you hear about the news?

MN: Someone came, came back from the basketball tournament and said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor so we should go home, so my father and all my sisters and I, we all went home.

JS: Now, how did, how did you respond to the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

MN: Well, you see, I was so sheltered that nothing fazed me; I didn't think anything of it. It didn't... who, who are they? They're, I don't know who they are.

JS: How did your, how did your parents react to it?

MN: They were shocked. They were, they just, were just... they didn't know what to do, what to think, 'cause I had, I had a brother in Japan, and they wanted him to come home, and they didn't know how to bring him back home. They were just, just... I don't know.

JS: Were there any other close relatives in Japan that your family was worried about?

MN: I think, I think my grandparents had been back to Japan, too, at that time.

JS: When did your brother go back to Japan?

MN: When? My brother?

JS: Yeah.

MN: Oh, it was 1939, '38 or '39. He just went for a vacation, and then he loved it so much that when they were, when we heard about Japan and the United States, so my mother sent him a lot of money, I don't know how much she sent him, money to come, bring him home, and he says, "No, it's okay, I don't want to come home yet." And then it was too late; he just couldn't come back.

JS: And he was which brother? Older, he was older than you --

MN: Yes, he was older than me.

JS: But how much older than you were?

MN: He must have been, he's, he must be at least... two, four, six, eight, about eight, seven, seven, six/seven years older than me.

JS: Okay, okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JS: Now after the -- so you returned from San Jose to Salinas after the bombing took place.

MN: Yes, uh-huh, yes.

JS: What was it like living in Salinas now when this happened?

MN: Well, all of my friends, when next day, it was a Sunday, Pearl Harbor was a Sunday, Monday I went to school and all of my friends turned against me.

JS: Your friends, your...

MN: My classmates. All my classmates, they turned...

JS: Your Caucasian friends?

MN: Yes, Caucasian friends, yeah. Caucasian, my classmates. They turned against me, uh-huh.

JS: How did they express that, turning against you?

MN: Well, they called me everything you could think of, "dirty yellow Jap," and everything that you could think of, I guess.

JS: Before that time --

MN: No, they were all my best friends. I had a, I had a really dear friend, Velma Arnold. She was such a dear friend. I think, I think she was the only one that stood by me, but all the others, they just, they just, they didn't... they didn't like me after that.

JS: Did you experience any other type of animosity besides your classmates?

MN: No.

JS: Okay, nobody.

MN: Nobody.

JS: How about your store?

MN: No, I don't, I don't remember. I don't remember. They could have, they could have, no...

JS: Did anything happen to your family right after the Pearl Harbor happened?

MN: No, I don't think so. I don't think so.

JS: Did your, was your father...

MN: My father was, uh-huh... he, they took him, they took him away.

JS: "They," meaning who took him?

MN: The... I don't know, the, the police, the police or the FBI. I really don't know. I know two gentlemen came and took my father.

JS: When was, when did that happen?

MN: This was... must have been about latter part of December?

JS: Okay.

MN: Isn't that when they were all taken in? I really don't know.

JS: Did they just kind of storm into your house?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Besides your father, did they take any other property with them?

MN: Oh, yes. They took everything they could put their hands on.

JS: Such as?

MN: Radio, camera, typewriter, suitcase, everything that you could, they could carry, they took everything.

JS: Was any of that returned?

MN: No, no.

JS: How, how long was your father gone?

MN: Well, my family had connection with the chief of police...

JS: In Salinas?

MN: Salinas, and so he was, he was able to come home right away.

JS: How long was he in custody?

MN: Probably a day or two.

JS: Did he ever tell your family anything about what happened while he was in custody?

MN: They could have, but I didn't...

JS: You didn't hear.

MN: I didn't, I didn't.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JS: Now, so your, your family eventually left Salinas before the actual evacuation took place.

MN: Yes.

JS: So you left before that time.

MN: Uh-huh, yes, uh-huh.

JS: Exactly when was that? When did your family leave Salinas?

MN: Let me think now. Could have been January or February.

JS: Of 1942.

MN: Had to be about -- '42 -- it has to be about February because I remember moving four times in that, in May we were, had to go, we were, had to go to camp, in May.

JS: Okay. So where did you go to from Salinas?

MN: From Salinas, we went -- I, I think we went to a small little town in central Cal called Yettem. I think the population --

JS: Could you spell that?

MN: Y-E-T-T-E-M.

JS: Okay.

MN: I think it was a population of twenty.

JS: And why did you, your family go there?

MN: I, I think they wanted to be near my uncles, and I think the closest, the only house available was that house. That's what I think, I really don't know why we went to Yettem. [Laughs]

JS: And how, how large was this house?

MN: One room.

JS: And this, so there was --

MN: One...

JS: How many of you?

MN: There was probably Anna and Yo, Lori, Bill, my mother and father and I, seven of us.

JS: And all in that one room?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: And then how long did you stay there?

MN: Well, I, I don't think we, we didn't stay there too long, because from Yettem we went to Visalia, and then we stayed at Visalia at least a month. And then from Visalia, then we moved to Reedley, then we stayed with my uncle. Now, that's another story. [Laughs]

JS: Okay, now what about that?

MN: Because my uncle had about six or seven children, and then we all stormed in, and we all had to stay with them, because we knew that we had to go to camp. So, so all seven of us went, so there must have been about fourteen, fifteen of us, uh-huh.

JS: Now, when you went to Yettem to Visalia, where did you live in Visalia? How big a house...

MN: It was one of those -- it was a camp. They call it J.D. Martin's Camp. And then we had, the Mr. Martin was the owner, and then he had a farm. And so they had to go -- I think it was picking tomatoes. So my family all went to pick tomatoes, but my sister, my younger sister and my brother and I, we had to stay home and cook for the family, so we didn't have to --

JS: Now, what was that like?

MN: [Laughs] Utter chaos. Good thing my brother cooked a little because --

JS: This is your brother --

MN: Yeah, Bill.

JS: Bill, okay.

MN: He's just above me, he's two years older than me, and he was the one that, that made rice and got the okazu, and made food for the family.

JS: Was this something new for you, though?

MN: Of course. Oh, of course. I had never cooked in my life. I don't think I ever even fried an egg. [Laughs] Almost eleven years old. Isn't that... sometimes I think, "Oh, my gosh."

JS: So your family, besides your brothers, your sister and yourself who stayed home and did the cooking and cleaned the house and all that, were working on farms to make a living, right?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: And when you moved to Reedley they did the same thing?

MN: Yes -- no, no, we didn't have... no, we were, we just packed up, and then we were just waiting for our orders.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JS: How did you, how did you find out that you were going to be transported out of Reedley to...

MN: I really don't know. I don't know.

JS: So did you --

MN: They all, everybody, my, my sisters and my mother and father, they all knew when we were gonna, we had to take the train. Yeah, uh-huh.

JS: So you went from there to where?

MN: To Poston.

JS: Oh, directly --

MN: Directly, uh-huh.

JS: You didn't go to assembly center, then?

MN: No, no, we didn't, we didn't go to, no.

JS: Where did you catch the train?

MN: Reedley, Reedley, uh-huh, train station.

JS: And was there a lot of people there?

MN: Yes, there were a lot. A lot of us.

JS: Do you remember anything about that?

MN: Vaguely.

JS: Okay.

MN: All I remember was that they had the shades down; the shades down on the windows of the train, so we couldn't see out of, we didn't know if it was day or night. I remember that.

JS: Who told you that you had to keep the shades down?

MN: I don't know.

JS: Was there any --

MN: No, just my mother did.

JS: Was there anybody in the train that enforced that? I mean, you might try to take a peek or something.

MN: I think, yeah, I think so. I think there were soldiers there with a, with guns, walking around.

JS: Oh, inside the train?

MN: Inside the train, uh-huh.

JS: How did you react to that, seeing that?

MN: It was kind of fun. I don't think he was going to hurt us. See what a sheltered life I led? [Laughs]

JS: How about, how crowded was the train? Or was it --

MN: We all had, we all had seats of our own, uh-huh. It was crowded, but it wasn't, it wasn't like we were crammed in there, yes, uh-huh.

JS: So you slept in your seats and all that.

MN: Yes, uh-huh, exactly.

JS: How about food?

MN: I think we had sandwiches.

JS: Who provided the sandwiches?

MN: Somebody brought it in from outside.

JS: So they fed you sandwiches?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: How long were you on the train before you got to --

MN: I think two, two days.

JS: Two days?

MN: Two days or two nights. Yeah, uh-huh.

JS: Okay. And the shades are drawn, down, so you don't know where you're going.

MN: Shades are drawn, uh-huh, so we don't know. I didn't know.

JS: How, how was your mother -- was your father there, too?

MN: Yes.

JS: And how was your mother and father taking this?

MN: Oh, I think I -- see, they were with the uncles, so they were having a good time, I think. [Laughs]

JS: How were they having a good time?

MN: Because they were in, they had such a nice camaraderie, my uncles and my mother and my father.

JS: Okay, okay.

MN: Yes.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JS: So once you got to Poston --

MN: Yes.

JS: -- or I guess, the train doesn't exactly go into Poston.

MN: No, it went to Parker.

JS: Parker?

MN: Uh-huh. And then they, they load us onto this great big huge truck, a huge truck.

JS: What was that like for you?

MN: Oh, I don't know. It was kind of fun.

JS: Do you remember anything unusual happening on that trip?

MN: No, no, uh-uh.

JS: Okay, okay. How long was that?

MN: I think it, Parker isn't too far from Poston, probably hour, hour or two?

JS: Okay.

MN: I really don't know.

JS: Okay, and you arrived there in what month?

MN: May.

JS: 1942?

MN: Uh-huh, 1942, and it was hundred fifteen degrees.

JS: Oh, boy.

MN: It was really hot. So as soon as we got there, they, the people that were there made us drink salt pills.

JS: I'm sorry?

MN: They made us drink salt pills. I remember that distinctly, uh-huh. To, for us to perspire.

JS: Now, when you reached Poston, what were your, what was your impressions of that?

MN: Oh, it was, it was devastating. Oh, gosh.

JS: Why was it devastating?

MN: The room that we had, I mean, it was just a room, just a room, barrack. Just one little barrack. It's just a room.

JS: And how many of you were in that room?

MN: Anna, Lori, my mother and my father, my sister and I. Six.

JS: Six people?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: And where did your brothers go?

MN: I think there was a boys' room, I think. I really, 'cause my brother never slept with us. He, and there were, there was a, there was a barracks for young, for, just for the boys, I think, 'cause I know, I never remember my brother staying with us.

JS: Did you, did you do anything to create privacy?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: How did you...

MN: We put, we put a rope around the, rope around the, across the barrack, and then we put a sheet, blanket, so that one side of the bedroom would be closed. One side of the bedroom would be closed, and then we had a little kitchen. Well, it's not even a kitchen, it's just a hot plate and a sink. There was a sink in there.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JS: What were some of, what were some of the memories of your life in Poston? Your friends, school, things like that?

MN: I had a lot of fun, yeah.

JS: Doing what?

MN: I had, going to school, I had a, Mr. Jackson, a lot of, there was a lot of... well, this, no. Right after we went into school, there were all, lot of Japanese. The people in the, in camp were the teachers, 'cause there wasn't anybody there to, to teach. So I, my sister was teaching third grade at the time when we first got in, when we first got in. And then after that, about a year later, then they got in new, the help from outside.

JS: How were they as teachers?

MN: Well, I think my sister was a really good teacher. [Laughs] Although I was already in the seventh grade, so I don't know.

JS: How about the teachers that were hired from outside?

MN: Oh, they were, I... they were really wonderful. I had a, I had a music teacher, and I even had a Home-Ec. teacher.

JS: And what kind of activities did you participate in?

MN: Oh, I was in, I was in the Girl Scouts, and I was in the, we went to church. There was a church there.

JS: And how about your family, your parents? Did you notice any...

MN: "Here we go again." [Laughs] They had one extra room, my mother and father, they gave us two rooms, but then my mother and father wanted to start, start a little gaming room. [Laughs] "Gaming room," so yeah, she had three tables of -- I think they play a game called Hana, Hana.

JS: Could you describe what that is?

MN: It's a card game. They play with little, little, it's a small little cardboard-like, you know, that thick cardboard, and there's about forty-two cards in there, and then, and then you, three people will play, or six people gets to play, but then three people have to, have to get out, because only three people gets to play.

JS: Now, were they playing just for fun?

MN: No, I don't think so. I think they were playing for money. [Laughs]

JS: How did, how did that exist?

MN: Oh, but it's only nickel, nickel or dime.

JS: Okay, okay, but how, did anybody tell on them to close it down?

MN: No, oh, no. No, it was... yeah.

JS: Who would come to play there?

MN: All those, lot of those people that lived in our block.

JS: So they pretty much knew about this, then?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: And how often would they play?

MN: Probably every day.

JS: Every day?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: Oh, wow.

MN: I think so. I really, I never thought about that. Maybe my sisters might say, "Oh, no. It didn't happen." [Laughs] I think I put my parents in a bad light. [Laughs] My parents did everything. I mean, they, they always made fun.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JS: Now, besides, that might qualify as being kind of amusing, but were there any sad events that you can remember that took place while you were there in Poston?

MN: I, I remember vividly my first, a gentleman killed himself. I don't know, I think he was despondent, I think, so that was, he hung himself in a tree somewhere and in the bushes, and oh, gosh, that was so, it was traumatic. I never heard of anything, you know, my girlfriend's father, and it was...

JS: Oh, that was your girlfriend's father that did that?

MN: Father, uh-huh. So it was, I couldn't, I couldn't handle it. I didn't know, but that was -- and then there were so many, too. I mean, it was not one incident, so many people were taking their own life.

JS: Is that right?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Yeah.

JS: About how many, if you...

MN: No, I wouldn't know.

JS: Okay.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JS: Any other, were there any amusing incidents that took place, besides your mother's business?

MN: Well, they built a, a great big huge stage for us, and then they called it Poston Square Garden. And it was really a huge stage, and then we built our own swimming pool, huge swimming pool; I thought it was huge, and oh, we went swimming every day, and then I joined the so-called Poston Repertory Theater, and I was, I was one of the, one of the actors there.

JS: Oh, is that right? So you acted there?

MN: Yeah, I acted there.

JS: Did you get to sing?

MN: No, no.

JS: No singing? That's still later.

MN: Yeah.

JS: That's still later.

MN: Well, then they had these block parties. We had block parties once a month or so, and especially New Year and Thanksgiving and then they always had, had entertainment. So I don't know, for some reason, I used to go up there and sing. [Laughs] I don't know, I don't know why, but so ever since then, I would always, had to sing at one of those block parties.

JS: What kind of songs did you sing?

MN: I, I liked ballads.

JS: Okay.

MN: I sing ballads.

JS: Any particular favorite one?

MN: Yeah, I love Margaret Whiting, I don't know if you know her, and I like Sarah Vaughn.

JS: Okay. Any particular song that you liked, that you performed the most?

MN: Well, I don't know if they sang it or not, but then one of the song is called "That's My Desire," and there's another one called "Magic is the Moonlight." Now, this goes back long, long ways away. Those are my songs that I like.

JS: Would you care to give us a sample?

MN: No, thank you. [Laughs]

JS: [Laughs] So you're in camp, and you're participating in the Repertory Theater. What did you, what did you do there?

MN: We did Japanese plays.

JS: Oh, okay.

MN: Yeah, uh-huh, Japanese, mostly all Japanese plays. And I don't know where they got it, but then this, this... he's a director, he's our director, he had all kinds of costumes; just gorgeous, beautiful costumes. And then that's what we wore.

JS: Did you have to speak Japanese?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: So you could memorize Japanese?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, memorize Japanese.

JS: Did you know what you were saying?

MN: No, I don't know what I was saying.

JS: So besides that, were there any other things that you did for, to pass the time? Any hobbies you developed or anything like that?

MN: No, I was in the Girl Scouts, and that was a lot of fun, uh-huh.

JS: Okay. While you were there, did you have any thoughts about what you might do after the camp was over or anything like that?

MN: No, no. None. Probably become a secretary, and my mother said that secretaries are always in demand. I never thought of nursing or... and she didn't want me to be a singer.

JS: Why was that?

MN: She, she heard bad reputation, all entertainers are all bad, bad people, she said.

JS: Did you, did you still want to do that?

MN: Oh, yes.

JS: Okay, okay, so you did have that ambition.

MN: Ambition, uh-huh. Oh, yes.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

JS: How did the evacuation financially affect your family?

MN: Well, maybe I shouldn't be saying this, but then I remember one day right after the war broke out, we had to close the shop, we had to close the grocery store, because on the window it said, "Due to bankruptcy, we are closing our store."

JS: Okay.

MN: And then I guess we just gave too much credit to, to all of our farming people.

JS: Okay, okay. But the bankruptcy, did that, did you understand what that was about?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Okay. And how did the, how did the evacuation affect your parents, do you think?

MN: Oh, I think, I think they took it very hard, my mother and father. They didn't know what to do, so my sister, she was going with this guy, and so my mother wanted her to stay in Salinas to finish up all of the business and paperwork business for the rest, for the grocery store, so, so my sister married Sumio in Salinas.

JS: This is your sister...

MN: Grace, my eldest sister. And then, so that she could stay and finish up all of the things that had to be done. But I don't know what she had to do, but she had to stay.

JS: Did the evacuation have any impact on you, at all?

MN: No.

JS: I know this is kind of going into the future, but did you ever discuss the evacuation or camp life with your children?

MN: Not, not the first, first four or five years, I never talked about it.

JS: Why was that?

MN: I don't know. I didn't think they would be interested.

JS: Okay. But then...

MN: Then the reunions started. The first San Jose reunion started, and oh, I thought it was just wonderful that they would have... I don't, to this day, I don't remember what day it was for, what day it was. So I talked to my family that this is what happened to us.

JS: Okay. Did you give 'em any... what exactly did you tell them about?

MN: That all during the war, that we had to go to camp, and then, then they would say, "Camp, summer camp?" I said, "No, it wasn't like that." I think when we were first there, they had those guards, a sentry guard looking down on us with the guns. But then after a while, they, they left. I guess we weren't such a threat after all. But for the first few months or so, we had this great big huge watchtower, and then they were, they had the guns on us.

JS: What were their, what was their reaction to what you told them about the camps?

MN: "How interesting." I didn't, they didn't, they didn't know. They just said, "How interesting."

JS: Okay.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

JS: We're gonna go now to the period when the war ends, now. Some families who left the camp early or, was your family one of those?

MN: No, we stayed 'til the very end. Although my two sisters, they went out early.

JS: Where did they go?

MN: One of them went to Denver, and the other one went to Chicago.

JS: And those are who?

MN: Lori went to Denver, and Anna went to Chicago.

JS: What did they do in those places, Lori in Denver, for example?

MN: Lori, I think she, she, I believe she was working in a laundry, a laundry shop, where they, where they iron sheets and pillowcases for hotels, big hotels. And that's... and Anna went to Chicago, and she worked in a doll-making company, where she made the eyes and the faces for the dolls. I think that's what she did for a while. I don't know what else she did.

JS: So your family left in 1945?

MN: '45, uh-huh.

JS: And they, and where did you, your family go?

MN: We went to Denver, where Anna, where Lori was. We stayed in Denver.

JS: Why didn't you go to, come back to Salinas? Why did you go to Denver?

MN: There was nothing there.

JS: Your store was no longer there.

MN: No, there was no store there, uh-huh.

JS: Now, when you got to -- how did you get to Denver, by the way, from Poston?

MN: We, I, we must have had some money, I think, we took the train.

JS: Did you enjoy the trip?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: So your sister Lori was, had moved to Denver.

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: And how long did you stay there?

MN: I think no more than four months.

JS: Okay.

MN: During the winter months, October, November, December, January, because it was cold and it was snowing all the time. It was snowing all the time while we were there.

JS: And what did you do there?

MN: We went to school, my sister and I, my sister Betty and I, we went to school.

JS: And what was school like for you?

MN: We went to Manual High. It was predominately Hispanic, so it was, I enjoyed it. It was fun.

JS: Nobody called you names or anything?

MN: No, uh-uh, no.

JS: So you were well-treated?

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: Okay, so did you graduate from there?

MN: No, no, we, no. We just stayed there about four months. And I was a junior, sophomore, I think I was a sophomore. Ninth, ninth grade.

JS: And besides school, did you do anything else there?

MN: No, I didn't. Nothing.

JS: You didn't have a job, part-time job or anything like that?

MN: No, no... I, I went to apply for a job as a live-in, and this other girl and I, we went to apply for the same job, and that was the first time that she was mopping the floor on her hands and knees, and -- [laughs] -- I didn't know how to do that. So she got the job.

JS: Now, you stayed with Lori, but there's how many of you there? Are you all in one house?

MN: Yes, one house, uh-huh. She had a, a rooming house, and there was one, two, three, four, about five or six, six bedrooms. And so we were, we had a room of our own, my sister and I, Betty and I, and my mother and father had a room of their own.


JS: So how did she come about buying this house?

MN: Well, I think she, like I said, she, her husband was a chick-sexer, and I think it was for an investment, something that they could fall back on in the event that when they get older and then they'd have something to, to have.

JS: Now, this was a rooming house --

MN: Rooming house, uh-huh.

JS: -- so was there any, is there anybody else living there besides your family?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, there were two couples living there, uh-huh. And each one had their own kitchen, so it's a tiny little room where a kitchen and their own bathroom, so I was...

JS: How many of you were in one room?

MN: My mother and father had a room of their own, and then we had a room of our own, but we didn't have any kitchen or any, it's just a, we had to go to my sister's for, to go to the bathroom and take a shower and things like that.

JS: How did you, how did you like living there?

MN: It was nice. It was very cozy, and it was always so warm in there.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

JS: So you stayed in Denver for four months, I believe you said.

MN: Four months, uh-huh, yeah, at the most.

JS: And then where did you go from there?

MN: And then, and then in meantime, while we were living in Denver, my mother and father decided to go take a trip to San Jose.

JS: And why was that?

MN: To see -- I don't know, just to see her uncle, to see her brothers. She had three brothers living in San Jose, so she went to see them. And then we get a telegram saying that we're, Mother and Father, they have, they have a, they're going to buy this restaurant in Chinatown in San Jose, so come back. So come back.

JS: And did, so you guys left?

MN: So, uh-huh, left, uh-huh. Well, but Lori and George, they, they just drove us, drove us. They wanted my two, my sister and I to come back to San Jose. So, so Lori and George, they brought us back to San Jose, and then this hotel, this restaurant had two stories, and then they had a lot of rooms upstairs there. So we, so we stayed up there, we stayed, lived up there with them, with them.

JS: Your whole family did?

MN: Uh-huh, yeah, whole family.

JS: And how long did that last?

MN: Then we finalized the sale and everything, and so we, we ran the restaurant. And Anna, Anna came back from Chicago, and she ran it, because my sister Lori was still living in Denver. So Anna ran it, and it was called Kiraku Tey at the time.

JS: Could you spell that?

MN: Kiraku, K-I-R-A-K-U T-E-Y. I don't know what T-E-Y stands for, Kiraku Tey.

JS: But it was a Chinese restaurant?

MN: Chinese restaurant, uh-huh.

JS: And the owner sold it to your mom, mother and father?

MN: Uh-huh, to Mother, uh-huh.

JS: Why did your mother and father want to buy a restaurant, because their background is in a grocery store?

MN: Grocery store, uh-huh. Like I say, they're business-minded. My mother's always been business-minded, and Mr. Ping, Lou Ping, the owner, knew my mother from before the war, and then he said my mother's an honest lady, and he wants to sell it to her 'cause he wanted to go back to China. That was his, his only, he wanted to go to China before he died.

JS: Okay, how old a man was he, then?

MN: Oh, to me, he looked about sixty-five. But then he was about six feet tall and about three hundred pounds. [Laughs]

JS: You said he knew your mother from before the war.

MN: Before the war.

JS: Why was that?

MN: Because when my, when we came to San Jose, we, we used to come to San Jose all the time, at least three times a year, to see my mother's brothers, 'cause she wanted to see them. And every time when she, we would come to San Jose, they would, my mother and my uncle would go and go to Mr., Kiraku Tey and have a drink or two, my mother and my uncles.

JS: And where is that restaurant located?

MN: It's, right now it's called Hukilau, right in Japantown.

JS: Okay.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

JS: Okay, so your family decides to move to San Jose because of the restaurant.

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Yes, uh-huh.

JS: And I believe you said that in Salinas, there was nothing there.

MN: There was nothing there, uh-huh, yeah, nothing there.

JS: I've heard that there was a lot of anti-Japanese feelings in Salinas during this time, because a army unit that had a lot of boys from Salinas got wiped out. And so as a result of that, there was a lot of Japanese, anti-Japanese sentiment had developed. Did that play a role, any role at all in your not going back to Salinas?

MN: No, I think we, I think my sister had to sell it, sell the business, because, because of the bankruptcy. That's, I don't think we had any more ties there.

JS: Okay. What was it like for you to live in San Jose during the first year, because now you're in a different city?

MN: Oh, it was nice. Yeah, it was nothing, I mean, we've been moving around so much that it was just, I, we got used to it right away.

JS: Can you make any comparisons between living there in San Jose after the war, then comparing it with living in Salinas before the war?

MN: Age, age difference. You know, I was younger in Salinas, and then got, I'm more aware when I got older. I really enjoyed San Jose.

JS: Did your, did your family get any sort of help from any non-Japanese during that time, to overcome any difficulties or anything like that?

MN: No, no, none whatsoever. None.

JS: You said that your parents, how did they get the financing for the restaurant?

MN: Oh. They, they borrowed money from everyone; everyone that would lend it to them. I know for a fact my uncle Shig, my uncle Shig had to, had to, had some say-so in this, because, 'cause I know he's, he's always the one that's very influential in my mother's, her thoughts. And I think he took her to the bank, and then he just did whatever he wants. But then I know, I remember about, a couple years later, we were, I was bringing envelope to this Mr. Daitan, and bringing this to Mr. Fujimura, and then I was taking all kinds of money to all these people to, to pay back the loan.

JS: Okay.

MN: My mother says, "You have to pay back the..." she didn't drive and then she was still at the restaurant, so...

JS: Okay. Did they get any money by way of what they called tanomoshi, which is like a mutual aid society?

MN: I don't, I don't think so.

JS: Okay, they didn't do that.

MN: No, I didn't, they could have, but I didn't, I wasn't aware of it. They could have, but I...

JS: What church did you go to when you came back from --

MN: The Buddhist Church.

JS: Okay. And were you active in these activities, then?

MN: No, not at that time. Although not, not during the 1950s and the '60s, no. I was too busy having -- I got married in 1950, and after that I had so many children that I just didn't have... I wasn't, I wasn't active in the church, but I made my children all go to church. They were all going to church every Sunday.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

JS: Do you remember anything about the hostels that were established for Japanese who were moving back to California who didn't -- I mean, back to San Jose who didn't have a place to stay?

MN: Yes. Yes, there was a hostel there. It was two stories...

JS: Where?

MN: Right where the Buddhist Church gymnasium is now. It was a two-story wooden building, and they had, the top floor was for gentlemen, I think, all the men lives upstairs, and then the, and then the bottom floor, there were families living there. My girlfriend lived there with her mother and her two brothers. But then I don't -- no, I don't think her two brothers lived there.

JS: Did you ever go inside?

MN: Yes.

JS: What was it, what did it look like inside?

MN: It was, it was dark and dingy. It was just, it was just a room. Community bath and community kitchen.

JS: How about beds and things?

MN: No, I didn't, I didn't, I don't remember the beds.

JS: Okay. It wasn't like it was a row of beds...

MN: No, no, no. No, each one had their own house, own room.

JS: Oh, is that right?

MN: Uh-huh. Like Midori and her mother, they had their own room, and the others, the Kotsubos, I think, they lived there, too. But the upstairs where I think they had rows and rows of bed. Right? Uh-huh, for the, for the men, for the men.

JS: Okay. Were there any events that took place in Japantown during that time that stand out in your mind that you could talk about, tell us about?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Well, do you know the Obon, the Buddhist Church has their Obon festival? It used to be on Jackson Street, right on Jackson Street, right in front of our, our restaurant. So it was fun; they used to have the stage right in front there. Yeah, they had that for a long time, at least ten years.

JS: Okay, ten years meaning from 1940...

MN: 19-, right after the -- well, I don't think, they didn't, '47, '48? '48, uh-huh. Yeah.

JS: Okay. Anything else that you can recall during that time that happened in Japantown?

MN: No.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

JS: How did the restaurant get its name?

MN: The Mandarin?

JS: Yeah.

MN: Oh, I don't know. We, we were, we were just, the four of us, my, Anna and Lori and my sister Yo and I, Betty and I, we were thinking, and then I think my mother up with it, came up with that name, Mandarin.

JS: Did you serve Mandarin food there?

MN: No, no, we didn't think anything, we didn't know. We didn't know at the time that Mandarin was Mandarin food. [Laughs]

JS: Now why did your family continue it as a Chinese restaurant and not as a Japanese or any other kind of restaurant?

MN: I don't know. It was, first we had, we hired some cooks from San Francisco, Chinese cooks. And then they just kept coming, and when someone would quit and then we'll get another one and then he would quit and we'll get another one. And then, and then it just was always a Chinese restaurant.

JS: Well, why was there such a high turnover of cooks?

MN: Lot of those cooks are, they're very, they didn't like constructive criticism, and if we didn't like what they made, they would get, they would get upset, very upset, and they would say, "I quit."

JS: How many cooks did you have before it stabilized?

MN: I think, oh, I can't remember. At least five, at least five, until we got two good ones.

JS: And when was that?

MN: About 1950, 1960... about 1960 to about 1970.

JS: Who worked there?

MN: My brother Bill and my husband Bob, and my sister-in-law...

JS: From, from the very beginning?

MN: From very... well, no, it, it was, first it was given to my sister Anna, she, she took over, then she got married.

JS: Okay.

MN: And then, and then, then Lori took over, so, and then Lori took over, and then Lori had a chance to run another, another business called Taylor Fish Market, so she decided to go do that, and so she told Bill to take over. And then, and then at that time, Bill had to go to the, he was stationed at, I don't know where, he was in army, he was in the Korean War.

JS: So it's 1950 or so?

MN: Uh-huh, yes, uh-huh. So, yeah, so he was in the Korean War, so, and then in the meantime, my husband got a honorable discharge. He was medically unfit to be in the army they said, so he had, so they gave him, they told him that, "You could leave." So he took over until my brother came back, uh-huh.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

JS: How did your husband -- kind of jumping a little bit ahead -- but when did you meet your husband, and how did he become involved... he eventually became manager of the Mandarin.

MN: Uh-huh, yes.

JS: Could you tell us a little bit about that?

MN: Well, he, he was one of our regulars at the restaurant; he used to come in with some of his friends, and we met like that. It was nothing. [Laughs]

JS: And then, then how long after you met him did you get married?

MN: A year.

JS: A year?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: And then how did he become involved in working at the restaurant?

MN: I think I asked him to help out one day.

JS: Okay. What was he doing before that?

MN: He was working for this company called Pottery, Garden City Pottery, where right now it's Blockbuster and Sushi Maru, and Ikebana, that Sogetsu Ikebana and Classic Rock is there right now, and that used to be a huge, huge pottery plant.

JS: So he was working there.

MN: There, uh-huh.

JS: Then you asked him to come help at the restaurant.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: What did he do when he first started?

MN: He, when he first started, he was helping the chef. He would, he would be just like a fry cook.

JS: And who was the chef at this time?

MN: At the time, there was a Chinese gentleman named Louie, and Louie had a cousin named Sing, and so they were both working there. And they were the two that lasted the longest; they stayed there a long time, at least ten years.

JS: So they could take constructive criticism? [Laughs]

MN: Yes, uh-huh, yes. Oh, not, not too much, but then we didn't wanna, we didn't wanna hire any more cook, or, so we just kept them until they both died.

JS: What were you doing at this time?

MN: We were, I was a waitress.

JS: Okay. Did you, did you always stay a waitress there?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. My sister-in-law and I, we...

JS: And how many hours a day did you work, and can you describe what a typical day was like for you?

MN: Well, let me see. It, it varied because for a while, we, we had, we brought our kids to work, and then we put them in the banquet room and then they had, we had a playpen for them and buggy and everything, all the comforts of home for them. And then as they grew older, then they were able to take care of themselves, so they, they all started to work at the restaurant, too, uh-huh, every one of them did that. My brother had five boys, and I had five; I had three, three girls, two girls and three sons, and they all helped there.

JS: How did you feel about working there?

MN: Oh, it was hard work. It was very hard work, and I think we were quite busy all the time.

JS: Any good aspects of it that you liked?

MN: Yeah, good food. Oh, we can't get any food; and people will tell you, "How do you make this dish? How do you make that dish? Would you ever publish a cookbook on your Mandarin food?" 'Cause it was different -- oh, I forgot to tell you this, after those two cooks died, my brother took over, and he became the head chef.

JS: That's, which brother is this?

MN: Bill. He became the head chef, and then my husband was the buyer; he bought all the, the produce and the meat, and my brother was the... he cooked all kinds of food, I mean, that you can never, never get at any other restaurant.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

JS: And what was your mother and father doing during this time?

MN: Here we go again. [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, we had a gambling den.

JS: Where was that?

MN: At the beginning, it was in the banquet room, I believe. Uh-huh, and then we got a basement, so they went into the basement, and then they had tables going, three tables going full-blast.

JS: What kind of games were they playing?

MN: I think they were playing poker. Poker and I think there's another game called ten-card rummy. It's, it's really fun, aces wild. [Laughs] You play with about eight decks, though.

JS: How long did this keep up?

MN: Kept up, oh, it kept up for quite a long time. I can't remember when we... when, I think when it got to be too, too hard on the, too hard on the, you know, the chief of police was easygoing at that time, so it was easy. And then I think when Joseph MacNamara came in, I think it was getting harder for us to, to run the business.

JS: Was it there from the beginning of the restaurant?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, yeah, I think we've always had, had a gaming room.

JS: Now, did, who came to play at this gaming room?

MN: Lot of these bachelors that goes to these, they're migrant workers, they go from city to city.

JS: Hispanics?

MN: Huh?

JS: Hispanics?

MN: No, Japanese. Yes, uh-huh. They're, they, they pick strawberries, and they go from city to city and wherever they get to, they stay at the hostel, and then they'll come in and play, play game couple of hours.

JS: How many, how many... what was the capacity of that basement?

MN: There were at least sixteen, at least sixteen could get to play. Eight and eight.

JS: They what?

MN: Eight people could get to play on one table, I think, or maybe seven.

JS: Okay. Now, did that income from that gambling, did that aid your restaurant?

MN: No. No, it went to my mother. [Laughs]

JS: It's like two separate...

MN: Yeah, two separate, uh-huh. Two separate, uh-huh.

JS: Did you have any problems with the police at all? I mean, you had this gambling.

MN: No, I don't think so. I remember once Mother giving those cops some sake and some, some chow mein and things.

JS: Did they raid the place and did they...

MN: Yes, uh-huh, they raid the place. Yeah, uh-huh. They raided it.

JS: Okay, so it was like a little bribe, then?

MN: Uh-huh, yes, uh-huh. Yeah.

JS: That's interesting; it's really a great story.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

JS: What was the ethnic mix of your customers that came to the Mandarin?

MN: A lot of Hispanic, some blacks; the minister used to come, the Baptist minister used to come, and has to bring all his coins. [Laughs] But he was one of our regular, uh-huh.

JS: Okay. How about Japanese from the community?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, the Japanese community. Oh, we had a lot of, they're called otoki. After the funeral service or after memorial service, or even the kenjinkai where they had these, these clubs, we have a prefecture, Kumamoto Prefecture, Hiroshima Prefecture, and then they would have a reunion, and then they would come and have a lunch -- or dinner, I mean dinner.

JS: Why did they, besides good food, why did they choose your restaurant?

MN: Probably as so close to the Buddhist Church, and they could walk down.

JS: And did you have the facilities to, to --

MN: Yes, we have a, we had a banquet room in the back.

JS: How big was the banquet room?

MN: It held 120 people.

JS: Oh, very large then.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Did you have any other type of restaurant -- excuse me -- related to the restaurant that you did to, as part of your restaurant operation?

MN: No, nothing.

JS: Like no catering? Did you have catering?

MN: Well, we used to cater to the Buddhist Church for a wedding, and that's about all that we did.

JS: Okay. Now --

MN: Oh, yeah. We had a, a long time ago, before, before the church was built, there was a big huge building called Okida Hall. And then that's where the, where the taiko people are right now, and then we used to have big, huge weddings there: 250, 300 people wedding banquets there.

JS: Okay. How much of that was part of your business?

MN: That, just maybe once or twice a year.

JS: Okay, but it was, it was profitable, I imagine.

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

JS: Now you told me previously that you expressed your appreciation to your customers in a certain fashion. Could you tell me about how you did that?

MN: Oh, well, I called it -- we, we send out, we give out so-called calendars every year, and we would, Bob would make about 200 pounds of char siu, barbequed pork, and then we would give, we could wrap it up in tin foil and then we would go to all of our regular customers, probably about fifty or sixty, and then I would deliver it New Year's Eve to their home every year.

JS: And how long did you do that?

MN: At least fifteen years.

JS: Wow. I'm sure they appreciated the gesture.

MN: I think so. And his char siu was really delicious.

JS: Oh, is that right?

MN: Uh-huh.

JS: How did he learn how to make char siu?

MN: I think my, Bob must have learned it from the cook, from the cook, Sing, the cook that was there.

JS: Okay. Now, before you closed the restaurant, I think it was in 1980 when that happened...

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JS: Did you or your family ever seriously consider another type of business besides the restaurant?

MN: Oh, no. We were, we were... I was fifty years old, Bob was fifty-five. No, I don't think so.

JS: What did you enjoy best about the restaurant business?

MN: The people. I enjoy people; I'm a people-person, and the food. The food was just out of this world. I miss that the most. If only my brother would only make Mandarin chow mein, or the roast chicken.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

JS: Now, what do you think are the rewards of having a business in Japantown?

MN: Oh, I love Japantown. It's, it's comforting... people will, people will really love to come to Japantown, although it is getting, people are not coming as much as they, as before.

JS: Why do you think that is?

MN: I really, probably due to not enough parking, and then some of them are really upset about meters -- [laughs] -- the parking, parking meters. They're even upset about that now.

JS: Then what do you think about the future of Japantown businesses?

MN: Gee, I really don't know. I don't know what will happen. All of the, most of the kids aren't taking over their, their parents' business, and so it's, it's, it might not be Japantown anymore, it might be "Asiantown," that's what I think.

JS: Okay, is there anything else that you'd like to tell me that I haven't asked you about your business or about your life story?

MN: No, I don't think so.

JS: Well, thank you, Mollie, for helping the museum to collect and preserve Japanese American history in the Santa Clara Valley. Your contribution will help future generations to understand and appreciate the role of Japanese Americans in California history.

MN: Thank you.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

[Present-day interior and exterior shots of the former site of the Mandarin Restaurant.]

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.